THE government’s apparent inaction about the allegation that recruiting agencies force outbound workers to pay exorbitant fees is unacceptable. As New Age reported on Sunday, a Saudi Arabia-bound male worker needs to pay in the ranges of Tk 8–10 lakh, while a Qatar-bound male worker Tk 3–4 lakh, an Iraq-bound male worker Tk 3–3.5 lakh and a Singapore-bound male worker Tk 7–8 lakh. Even housemaids need to pay their migration costs supposed to be borne by the employers. According to a World Bank report released in 2015, Bangladeshi migrant workers bear the highest migration cost in the world as some Bangladeshi workers had to pay 50 times the monthly wage they were paid in Saudi Arabia and 25 times the wage they received in Malaysia in the period. Meanwhile, recruiting agencies blame the high cost of job visas for the situation and migrant rights campaigners blame visa trading by middlemen in both the countries of origin and destination for the high migration cost. The collection of illegal fees by the expatriates’ welfare ministry, the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training and the police, as alleged, also contribute to the surge in migration cost.
What is more regrettable is that the situation has prevailed for long but the government has so far washed its hands of the matter just by saying that they would take punitive action against the errant recruiting agencies on receipt of complaints. The government could easily investigate the matter based on media reports, but it has so far ignored such reports. One can recall in this connection the initiative taken by the ministry concerned to set country-specific uniform migration cost three years ago which produced no results. It cannot be denied that in the absence of uniform or standard rates, recruiting agencies continue to compel poor workers to pay at varying rates for migration to the same country. In 2015, the International Labour Organisation launched its ‘Fair Recruitment Initiative,’ better known as ILO-FAIR, to reduce the cost of labour migration and enhance development gains as the ILO’s Private Employment Agencies Convention (No 181) says that migrants should not cover any costs linked to migration. Besides, there are many destination countries where relevant laws require the employers to bear the full migration cost. However, the government failed to capitalise on all this as well.
Rights campaigners have rightly said that high migration cost keeps Bangladeshi workers under severe mental stress which even causes their premature death in destination countries. Most of the migrant workers come from the poor strata of society while they have to arrange for the migration cost by either selling even homesteads or borrowing from private sources at high interest. The government needs to realise that all this, if allowed to continue, may leave an adverse impact on both sending workers to foreign countries and remittance inflow, adding to economic and social problems. It should immediately take steps to effectively address the issue.
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